The Nature of Will: A Third Measure of Intelligence?
Recently I had some discussions with my girlfriend about the question “How many geniuses are there on Earth?”. I just threw out that the top 1% of the top 1% of intelligence might make a good easy measure (the most intelligent one person out of every 10,000). Of course this begs the question “how do you measure intelligence?” It is one thing to attempt to assign an IQ or EQ to an individual with standardized tests. If you could do so with perfect accuracy and precision, then you could say “These are the 700,000 geniuses on Earth (1% of 1% of 7B).”
Even if you count all of the artistic, philosophical and humanistic geniuses in the world, common sense indicates that only a small portion of these individuals are actually shaping our future. Some are too young or too old, some may be experiencing social or financial hardships that prevent them from participating, and some may have just “checked out” due to feeling out of place or even shunned in society.
This paper was prompted by an insight I had last night, which was New Years Eve (the last day in 2011). I became intoxicated, a very rare (less than once a year) event for me, and I spent some time observing how my brain responded. Normally when I think of an idea, object, or concept, I get a flood of connections to things that might be related. Imagine if someone asked “What comes to mind when I say the word ‘Fire truck’?” Many things may come to mind. Google seems to work the same way. When I type ‘fire truck’ into Google I get 28,600,000 connections. I assume the number of connections I get, if I could count them, would be a much smaller number.
I would propose that the number of connections I get to any particular idea is based on the totality of my personal experience, weighted to those areas I have more interest in. This may be related in some ways to Raymond Cattell’s concept of crystallized intelligence. The advantage I have over Google when I do a search of my (smaller) database is that I can include the relevance of various things to each other in ways that Google cannot. The latest generation of humanity has unprecedented access to information, but if they do a search for something, and the most relevant thing they are seeking ends up on the 3000th page of a Google search, this just prevents them from finding it.
Last night I had this experience of my “relevant objects/concepts” map breaking down. Before I fell asleep I had gotten to the point where it was very difficult to focus on anything more than one object/concept, and that one thing lacked relevance. The more related ideas I have to something, the more ways I can think of using something. This is critical in problem solving. When relevance drops to zero, I noticed that I lost all will to take action. I lost my volition. When a person is presented with some data, if they don’t see how it is relevant, it seems unimportant and no action is taken on it.
What if, beyond IQ and EQ, it took a concept of relevance for a genius to take action and use their abilities to innovate? What if this sense of volition was tied to the perception of relevance, and relevance was linked to that person’s totality of experience or crystallized intelligence? What if you used volition as a third measure of intelligence? This would result in a construct where the combination of IQ, EQ, and Volition resulted in a measure of a person’s propensity to make and apply cognitive leaps?
The Flynn effect is the observation that IQ seems to be rising for humans over time. I would propose that increased access to information and ideas, and interactive media in particular, are responsible for this. On the down side, since we now have access to so much information on demand, I think our species is relying less on history, rote memorization, and study. When I went back to school recently to study economics, it shocked me how little the students paid attention or asked questions in the most advanced classes. They probably figure “Why memorize anything when I can just look it up on Google if I need it?”. Well yes that’s true, but if their ability to see the relevance of something is dependent on knowledge held internally, then volition will decrease using this method.
What would be the result of a civilization whose IQ increased over time while their volition decreased? I suggest that what you would see is an increased ability to emulate, and a decreased ability to innovate, which is exactly what I observe in the interactive media industry. I would imagine this trend is not unique to just that one industry. Corporate structures promote this also. When seeking new labor resources, corporations usually have a very narrow perception of how a person should be trained and experienced, and how they fit into the grand scheme of the organization.
When was the last time a corporation put out a job ad for someone that “can make our product or business better?”. If you could find that person, wouldn’t that person be really valuable? If so, why don’t companies do this? Are there some industries that do do this regularly? If so, are valuable lessons being learned there that can be used elsewhere?
In the interactive media industry there are many new players who are good at business but know little about games or their history. Some brag that even though they barely know how to turn on the devices that play their products, that they know how to sell anything and thus can sell games. These same people seem to make the most obvious mistakes to me, because they lack this relevance. As soon as I start talking about marketing they have a similar reaction to me. When something they want to sell doesn’t, they fire up their analytics software and start looking for an answer from their data. Despite how much data the computer might know, you might get a better answer from someone with a lot of real experience with that specific subject. Why isn’t that person an appropriate job position? How have computers made that person obsolete?
I invite discussion on this idea of “volition” as a measure of applied intelligence based on the ability to identify relevance. Is the ability to create and identify relevance on the decline even as total information is increasing? Does this make crystallized intelligence even more important now, or has it become obsolete? Please share your thoughts.